poetry in action #8 | Poetry and Prose from Paul Celan | Translated by Pierre Joris

From Memory Rose into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry (FSG, November 2020)







The no longer trodden, the
skirted thyme-carpet.
An empty line, aslant
the cross-leaved heath.
Nothing carried into the windbreak.

Again, encounters with
single words like:
rockfall, hardgrass, time.

(from TtT)










Der nicht mehr beschrittene, der
umgangene Thymianteppich.
Eine Leerzeile, quer
durch die Glockenheide gelegt.
Nichts in den Windbruch getragen.

Wieder Begegnungen mit
vereinzelten Worten wie:
Steinschlag, Hartgräser, Zeit.










the acorn-barnacle, saw
the limpet, saw
the nails on our hands.
Noone cut the word from our heart wall.

(Tracks of green crab, tomorrow,
creep-furrows, crawlways, wind-
sketch in grey
ooze. Fine sand,
coarse sand, that
peeled off the walls, next
to other hard-parts, in the

An eye, today,
gave it to the second, both
closed, followed the current to
their shadow, set
down the freight (noone
cut the word from our — —), built
the hook further out — sand spit, before
a small
unnavigable silence.





die Seepocke, sahen
die Napfschnecke, sahen
die Nägel an unsern Händen.
Niemand schnitt uns das Wort von der Herzwand.

(Fährten der Strandkrabbe, morgen,
Kriechfurchen, Wohngänge, Wind-
zeichnung im grauen
Schlick. Feinsand,
Grobsand, das
von den Wänden Gelöste, bei
andern Hartteilen, im


Ein Aug, heute,
gab es dem zweiten, beide,
geschlossen, folgten der Strömung zu
ihrem Schatten, setzten
die Fracht ab (niemand
schnitt uns das Wort von der – –), bauten
den Haken hinaus – eine Nehrung, vor
ein kleines
unbefahrbares Schweigen.










Sommerbericht | Summer Report

  1. 18. 1958.

4 Glockenheide | cross-leaved heath] Erica tetralix: an evergreen with red flowers heath, specifically:   Erica tetralix, the cross-leaved heath, a species of flowering plant in the family Ericaceae, native to western Europe. In bogs, wet heaths and damp coniferous woodland, E. tetralix can become a dominant part of the flora. It has also been introduced to parts of North America. (Wikipedia).

5 Windbruch | windbreak] Cf reading traces in Stifter’s  Der Waldgänger : “Nachforschung über gerissene Stämme, Windbrüche, eingestürzte Stellen | Research concerning torn trunks, windbreaks, collapsed places” (also marginal marks, p. 417), as well as the reading note from circa 1957: “als endlich der Wald zum fahlen Windbruch verdorben war | when the forest had finally rotten down to a pallid windbreak.”

Niedrigwasser | Lowwater

Paris, 8. 26. 1958. The poem is based to a good extent on information gathered from Roland Brinkmann’s book Abriß der Geologie, which PC had bought on 8. 22. 1958.  Cf. also PC’s reading notes in TCA/SG 121.

5 Niemand schnitt uns das Wort von der Herzwand | Noone cut the word from our heart wall] cf.  Jer. 4, 4: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” and V. 14-16 of “Blume | Flower.”









from Microliths they are, Little Stones (Contra Mundum Press, October 2020), a narrative fragment from the 1960s:


139      From the direction of the secrets; from the place, where; you know, you know; don’t say you no longer know; you were naked, naked; stark naked; from the bush, from the star; from the flat gravel stone that skips over the Donau — count: once; and again; and three times and four times and; from the place, where.
…………Past. Calendar-autumn. I hear, she has. Indeed, that’s what she wanted, probably because of her ambition.
…………Probably? Certainly. For back then already, I remember, she didn’t want to, because of the basement. The basement — that’s what she knew, that’s where she grew up, on the left of the little sister, on the right of the little brother, Sir papa, sorry, the Captain, sir, was also there, if in the adjoining room, with mama.
…………No, better talk of the saints. Saint Veit, Saint Tho.


…………If it’s too late for you, friend, then come. I’m waiting. Oilgloom Alley number three. Tomorrow, today.






Paul Celan was born in Czernowitz, Bukovina, in 1920, and is considered by many to be the greatest German-language poet of the second half of the twentieth century. He survived the Holocaust and settled in Paris in 1948, where he lived and wrote until his suicide in 1970. His poetry collections include Poppy and Memory, Speechgrille, Breathturn and Timestead. His prose is gathered in Microliths they are, Little Stones. He remains probably best known for his poem “Todesfuge” (“Death Fugue”).

Pierre Joris is the author of more than 60 books of poetry, essays, translations, and anthologies, including most recently Fox-trails, -tails, & -trots (Poems & Proses), Arabia (not so) Deserta (essays) and, with Adonis, Conversations in the Pyrenees. Joris is the editor and translator of Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry of Paul Celan & Memory Rose into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry of Paul Celan (both from FSG). With Jake Syersak, he recently co-translated Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Agadir. In 2020 he was awarded the Batty Weber Prize in Luxembourg, his country of origin’s highest award for life-time achievement in literature.


poetry in action is an Action Books blog feature curated and edited by Katherine M. Hedeen (@kmhedeenwith web editing by Paul Cunningham.

September 10th, 2020|
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